May 02, 2018 06:44 AM
Should victims of child sex abuse be able to sue their abusers decades later?
The New York State Legislature is considering extending the statute of limitations on child sex crimes but there are some big organizations spending thousands of dollars to fight it.
Currently, someone who is sexually abused as a child has until the age of 23 to press criminal charges against his or her abuser. Under the proposed legislation, a victim would have until his 28th birthday to file criminal charges and his 50th birthday to file civil charges.
At the age of 13, a family member shattered Melanie Blow’s trust, “one day he pulled me aside, he sexually assaulted me and I mean... inside my world changed, outside, I didn't dare tell anybody,” she recalled. The abuse continued and so did her silence until a decade later when she realized her abuser had done the same thing to other children.
“It never occurred to me that he was going to do this to someone else,” she said.
Since then, she’s been pushing for changes that would allow victims more time to come to terms with their abuse and seek justice.
“When children are victimized sexually in their early years, they very often don't have the ability to intellectually or developmentally understand what's happened to them,” said Deb Rosen, the Executive Director of the Bivona Child Advocacy Center.
That’s why many states have done away with statutes of limitations or have significantly extended them.
“New York State is truly out-of-step with the rest of the country in this area,” Rosen added.
It seems there is widespread support in Albany when it comes to giving victims more time to press criminal charges and file civil suits but the legislation also includes a one-year “look-back” for civil cases and that is the sticking point. During that window, anyone, abused at any time could sue.
“You go generations, somebody could stake a claim from something that happened 30, 40, 50 years ago and there's no one to defend against those particular allegations,” said New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan of Elma.
Who seems most concerned about that? Not the alleged abusers but their possible former places of employment. News10NBC pulled lobbying records that show some of the very groups who are supposed to protect children, have spent money urging lawmakers not to pass this legislation. The list includes public and private schools and teachers, the Boy Scouts of America, the Catholic Church and insurance companies.
In fact, following a meeting with Governor Andrew Cuomo about the Child Victims Act in March, the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan is quoted as saying “a look-back would be toxic for us….We find it to be very strangling because we, unfortunately, have a precedent when that happens, the only organization that is targeted is the Catholic church.”
There’s also some concern from lawmakers that a look-back could flood the court system with thousands of civil cases. The State of California recently passed legislation that included a look-back window; so far, about 1,200 claims have been filed.
When asked if he thought the legislation would pass if the look-back window wasn’t included, Senator Gallivan told News10NBC, “the best way that I can say is this is now being talked about more than I've ever heard it talked about in the past and I think the momentum is there for something to get done.”
Melanie said, the least state lawmakers can do is let victims have their day in court.
“It's really hard to take a case forward when it's happening right now. It's much harder to take it forward when it happened decades ago but it can happen and all victims are asking for is the right to try,” she told News10NBC.
Updated: May 02, 2018 06:44 AM
Created: May 01, 2018 09:06 PM
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